Monthly Archives: October 2010

Benito Mussolini


I wish I could have found a better version of this famous clip, or at least one with sound.  But the seventeen seconds of clownish facial expressions here capture perfectly how, their terrifying capacity for evil aside, people like Mussolini are always ludricrous creatures.

On this day in 1922 Benito Mussolini became prime minister of Italy.

Frye in “Two Italian Sketches, 1939” describes ascending to a mountain village in the hope that he might be allowed to “forget about Mussolini for a few hours”:

When we get there we find, however, that the town has been made into a “national monument” and Mussolini’s plug-ugly sourpuss is plastered all over it.  His epigrams, too.  For every conspicuous piece of white wall in Italy is covered with mottoes in black letters from his speeches and obiter dicta–the successor to the obsolete art of fresco-painting.  One of them says, with disarming simplicity, “Mussolini is always right.”  “The olive tree has gentle and soft leaves, but its wood is harsh and rough,” says another more cryptically.  “War is to man what maternity is to woman,” says a third.  “The best way to preserve peace is to prepare for war,” says a fourth, and it looks just as silly in Italian as it does in English.  Another one of the few not of Mussolini’s authorship reads: “Duce! We await your orders.”  Up here they present us with “We shoot straight.” (CW 11, 189)

“Don Giovanni”


A superb rendition of the finale in a 1990 production at the Metropolitan Opera

On this date in 1787 Mozart’s Don Giovanni premiered in Prague.

Frye in “A Conspectus of Dramatic Genres”:

The verbal action of Figaro is comic and that of Don Giovanni tragic, but in both cases the audience is exalted by the music above the reach of tragedy and comedy, and, though as profoundly moved as ever, is not emotionally involved with the discovery of plot or characters.  It looks at the downfall of Don Juan as spectacular entertainment, much as the gods are supposed to look at the downfall of Ajax or Darius. (CW 21, 115)

Quote of the Day

Obama on The Daily Show last night

Public Policy Polling acknowledges that there’s been a surge in support for the Democrats among likely voters, but it probably isn’t enough.

One of the biggest hopes for Democrats heading toward election day has been that the party’s voters will get more engaged as the election comes closer, helping to mitigate its losses. A PPP analysis of 9 states where we’ve polled in October and also conducted a survey in August or September finds that the likely electorate for this fall is trending more Democratic- but not nearly to the extent the party needs.

As Frye says in The Double Vision, “Hope springs eternal, it just tends to spring prematurely.”  We’ll know soon enough.

Meanwhile, Obama made an appearance on The Daily Show last night in the hope of drawing that all important youth vote to the polls.  It was a good humored but still robust exchange.  Jon Stewart pushed Obama hard on the disappointed expectations of the liberal base.  But Obama pushed back and pointed out that much has been accomplished against long odds.

Video here.

Stewart and Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear” here.

Francis Bacon

“Self Portrait,” 1976

Today is painter Francis Bacon‘s birthday (1909-1992).

Frye in “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time”:

It is vulgar for the critic to think of literature as a tiny palace of art looking out upon an inconceivably gigantic “life.”  “Life” should be for the critic only the seed-plot of literature, a vast mass of potential literary forms, only a few of which will grow up into the greater world of the verbal universe.  Similar universes exist for all the arts.  “We make to ourselves pictures of facts,” say Wittgenstein, but by pictures he means representative illustrations, which are not pictures.  Pictures as pictures are themselves facts, and exist only in a pictorial universe.  It is easy enough to say that while the stars in their courses may form the subject of a poem, they will remain the stars in their courses, forever outside poetry.  But this is pure regression to the common field of experience, and nothing more; for the more strenuously we try to conceive the stars in their courses in non-literary ways, the more assuredly we shall fall into the idioms and conventions of some other mental universe.  The conception of a constant external reality acts as a kind of censor principle in the arts.  Painting has been much bedevilled by it, and much of the freakishness of modern painting is clearly due to the energy of its revolt against the representational fallacy.  (CW 21, 73-4)